For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to
Abraham by a promise. Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions,"
- Galatians 3:18-19
In Galatians, Paul has focused on how the Law can only condemn and that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone. The Galatians had fallen for the teaching that suggests we have something to do with our salvation. They believed that a Christian must believe in Jesus, but also adhere to tradition and rules.
Paul makes it clear that salvation does not depend on our performance. But the Law must play some role in the Christian’s life. Some Christians view Law and Grace as two equal tracks that must be tread upon carefully. We must have one foot on the Law and one foot on grace. But Paul does not teach this. He says that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ alone.
If you are savvy, you might be wondering about the role of the Law in our lives. If we are saved by Jesus Christ’s work alone and our work means nothing for our salvation, then what role does the Law play,
All of our questions about morality are found in how we answer this question: What is our relationship to the Law of God? The Reformed theologian’s view of the Law is that it is an infallible rule of practice. In other words, God’s moral Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments is not null and void. We learn how to behave and what godliness might look like in reality. We need to know what the Law says and how we might listen to it.
First, Paul will tell us what the Law does not do. He begins by using an historical example. The promises made to Abraham by God were driven by God’s grace. God made a promise to Abraham and Abraham believed God. His faith was credited to Him as righteousness. Additionally, Paul argues that God gave the Law 430 years after Abraham walked the earth in the form of the Mosaic Covenant. Paul makes the point that this Mosaic Covenant did not annul the first covenant. God’s promise in the Mosaic covenant was still of grace and not of the Law. In other words, the Jewish people, Abraham’s offspring, would not receive the Promised Land and become a great nation because they obeyed the Law but rather because of God’s promises. As a result, Paul concludes that the Law is not a pathway to salvation.
What then is the purpose of the Law? First, the Law was given as a mirror for us to peer into and see ourselves for what we really are. That is what Paul means when he says that the Law was “added because of transgressions.” It was meant as a gauge for our sin. We are able to look into the Law and see what God requires and how often and deeply we fall short. The Law identifies our sin.
Second, the Law leads us to our need of a Savior. Paul speaks of the Law as a tutor. It is meant not only to show us that we are sinful but that Jesus has fulfilled the Law and has accomplished what we cannot do.
The language Paul uses in these verses is one of imprisonment. The Law, without faith, locks us up to a prison guard and beats us into submission. There is no freedom. Many new Christians will tell you stories of how they came to know Jesus and then immediately began following rules to clean themselves up. But the Gospel is all about freedom in Jesus Christ.
The Law has a different purpose in the Christian’s life. We don’t simply forget the Law once it has led us to our need for Jesus. For a Christian, the Law no longer becomes a source of slavery, but rather freedom. We, like the Psalmist, meditate on the Law and rejoice in the Law. To put it simply, we want to be like Jesus. Jesus obeyed the Law. The Law tells us how to live our lives and we do so out of gratitude and to God’s glory.